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Curated by RSF Research Staff

Physics of Bubbles Could Explain Language Patterns

There are approximately 7000 living languages in the world and each of those languages comes with numerous dialects. What dictates the prominence and extent of these languages and dialects – is there a pattern?

According to mathematician Dr James Burridge there is a pattern - which he says can be explained using a simple model based on the laws of physics.

Traditionally, a dialectologist will use lines – known as isoglosses - to visualize the spatial extent of dialects. These isoglosses enclose domains within which a particular word or other linguistic feature is used. However, this does not give a true representation of the dynamics of what is and has happened over the course of history, as like most things in nature there is cause and effect resulting in a transition rather than an unexpected sudden change.

Moving away from traditional methods and treating the isoglosses analogous to surface tension, Dr Burridge was able to utilize the physics of bubbles to predict where and how dialects occur, stating

"These isoglosses are like the edges of bubbles -- the maths used to describe bubbles can also describe dialects."

Unified physics theories apply the same reasoning – in that fundamental physics concepts and laws can be applied across all scales for all systems form the simple to the more complex.

The results presented in Physical Review are in agreement with both observations and predictions made by dialectologists and present an interesting example of how applying fundamental physics to complex behaviors of humans leads to positive results.


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